Surreal Spending: $106.5M for a Picasso

Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold for $106.5 million yesterday at Christie’s, the largest price tag ever for a work of art.

The painting, which was on sale for nine minutes, was purchased by an anonymous buyer over the phone. The final bid was $95 million, but commissions and fees brought the price to $106.5 million.

This hefty sum is impressive, considering that the portrait was purchased for $19,800 the last time it changed hands in 1951. It’s also worth noting that the painting, which depicts Picasso’s mistress Marie-Therese Walter, was completed in one day. (Picasso must be rolling in his grave.)

Two other world records were broken at Christie’s New York Spring Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale when paintings by Braque and Raffaelli netted personal bests for each artist. In total, the auction netted $335.6 million.

“This was a stellar night for Christie's and for the art market,” Marc Porter, Chairman of Christie's Americas said in a press release. “We are honored to have been entrusted with so many remarkable works this season, and we are delighted to have delivered such positive results, including three new world auction records for Picasso, Georges Braque, and Jean-François Raffaelli."

Things in the art world certainly are stellar.  The $106.5 million sale only just surpasses the world record set in February when Alberto Giacometti’s bronze sculpture Walking Man I sold to another anonymous phone bidder for $104.3 million.

Prior to that, the auction record, $104.2 million, set by Picasso’s Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice), had stood for 6 years.

In 2009, Sotheby’s (Stock Quote: BID) the auction house that sold both Walking Man I and Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice), reported a 28% decline in earnings year-to-year. Christie’s, a privately owned company which is less forthcoming with information on sales, admitted to making $3.3 billion in 2009, a  35% decline from 2008.

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